BRANSON, Mo. — Indiana native Mike Raber remains atop the leaderboard after Day 2 of the Toyota Series Championship Presented by Simms. Bringing another limit to the scales that weighed 13 pounds, 11 ounces improved his two-day total to 31-7 on a tricky Table Rock Lake. But his cushion over the rest of the field has shrunk, setting up a wide-open final day.
Raber leads Chad Mrazek’s two-day total of 31-2 by 5 ounces. Mrazek, a 23-year-old who qualified via the Southern Division, sacked up 17-7 on Day 2, the largest bag of the day and second-biggest of the event, behind only Raber’s 17-12 from Thursday. Colby Miller (30-13) and Travis Harriman (30-11) are also lurking within a pound of Raber’s lead. Nine anglers are within 3 pounds of his total and it took 25-12 to make the Top 25.
Raber in the top spot was a bit of a surprise on Day 1. Pretty late into Day 2, it was looking like a short-lived one.
“I had three keepers at 2:20 p.m.,” Raber said. “I mixed up my rotation a little bit, and I think that made me fish a little too quickly. It wasn’t really happening for me in the morning; I didn’t catch a keeper for over two hours. Then, I started to get into my groove, caught a few, and built some momentum as the day went on. Then, I got two good bites at the end that saved me.”
While a decent number of pros are locked in on a pattern, be it ‘Scoping for deep fish or something else, Raber is running a variety pack.
“I’m doing two different patterns,” he said. “Obviously, I’m doing some LiveScope stuff, but I’m mixing it up with some shallow stuff. I’m flying by the seat of my pants, really — I don’t know where my next bite is coming from. It’s one of those things, every day, I can’t think why it goes down in an area and not in another. And it was like that in practice. I could pull up on the right section tomorrow and get it done, or I could look like I looked this morning all day.”
If Raber makes the right calls, he’ll go down in history and earn a $200,000 payday – there’s a lot on the line tomorrow.
“I’m pumped. Not very often do you get to go fishing on one day for $200,000,” he said. “But, it will not come easy, I can tell you that.”
Over the last few years, Mrazek has been burning up the highway bass fishing – he’s as likely to show up in an event on the Canadian border as he is in Texas or Florida. A superlative ‘Scoper, he’s been able to lean on his strength this week.
On Day 2, a good decision early set him up for success.
“I had an area I didn’t really know the potential of, but I knew I could get some bites,” he said. “I didn’t fish it yesterday, and I’m kind of kicking myself in the butt for it. I had 13 (pounds) or so in the boat before 10 a.m., which was a good start, so I got to fish for big ones all day.”
Targeting big ones meant a location change and a bait change for the Texas pro.
“I’m doing something I like to do, I’m hitting the fish with a bulkier presentation,” he said. “Still ‘Scoping singles, but I think I’m hitting them with something they’re not seeing. I’m not really focusing on groups, and I’m fishing a little bit shallower than others. And I’m trying to look at some areas that other people aren’t.”
Between the Tackle Warehouse Invitationals and the Toyota Series, Mrazek has had a solid year. Still, a win could be a career-maker for the young pro.
“It would be crazy,” he said. “I know they say the money spends and the hardware lasts, but for me, both of them would mean so much. I had a title sponsor back out on me this year, so I’ve been living by the skin of my teeth, cashing checks to go to the next one. I’ve had this on my mind a lot, to win would mean everything.”
To an extent, Mrazek and Miller are cut from the same cloth – both have been going hard at triple-A fishing with some success, but no big win to show for it. Now, Miller is in the hunt for a huge one.
“What a day,” Miller said of his 16-2 surge up the leaderboard. “I started slow, caught a decent one pretty quick, then went dry for an hour. Stumbled into three more, then went dry for an hour. Then, I stumbled into a few schools, caught a few more, and I was able to fill a limit. Right before I came in, I pulled into an area where I lost a good one yesterday and was able to cull up twice.”
You can probably guess what he’s doing.
“I’m strictly ‘Scoping, looking for singles, looking for schools,” he said. “It’s definitely an area deal, one of my spots is just a big channel swing with a bunch of bait and a couple schools of fish roaming around. They seem pressured, they’re hard to get to bite, but I’m the only one in the area.”
The challenge on Table Rock these days isn’t finding fish — they’re all over the place. The challenge is getting them in the boat.
“I don’t know what to expect tomorrow,” Miller said. “I’m around a lot of fish; I think I’m around winning fish, it’s just hard to get them to bite. I’ve never won anything big whatsoever, so to win would be amazing.”
While the races for the $10,000 on offer for the top finishers from each division are far from over, the battle between college teammates Peyton Harris and Dalton Head is done. With a decent Day 2, Head finished 83rd and earned the right to represent the University of Montevallo and the Abu Garcia College Fishing ranks at REDCREST.
Head said Lay Lake is “the lake I’ve fished more than any other.” So, he’s now not only part of an illustrious field, but he’s got a home field element that is not usually in play for college qualifiers to the big stage.
On the Strike King co-angler side, Levi Allgeier jumped into the top spot with a five-bass limit that weighed 12-8, the biggest bag of the event so far from the back of the boat. Allgeier has a 13-ounce advantage over both Day 1-leader Will Lancett and Zack Barrera.
“Today was a little more my style,” Allgeier said. “We got in some shallower largemouth waters, and it treated me well. Yesterday was more open-water spotted bass, and I was able to catch a couple. But today was up my alley, how I like to fish, and we made it happen. I caught two with literally minutes to go, and one on my last cast. I could tell it was my day.”
Seven co-anglers have caught a 10-pound bag or better on one of the days, and they’re all in the Top 25. However, consistency has been extremely hard to come by on the co-angler side, so the battle for the boat is wide open.
“One of the main reasons I fished these was to get me a boat and make a run at it on the pro side in the next few years,” Allgeier said. “It would be a real big treat and get me kicked off on the right foot to bring home a boat this week.”